Addressing an audience of leading businesses in Preston this morning, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, urged businesses to be patient and promised an orderly exit from the EU at the earliest opportunity.
The Under-Secretary of State from the Department for Exiting the EU was the keynote speaker at the Brexit for Business Conference, organised by the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce at the Guild Hall.
The Minister was asked a series of questions from host Rob McLoughlin, including whether the Government had failed to deliver on Brexit and if Theresa May was to blame. Kwarteng insisted the Government had done everything it could to get the Prime Minister’s deal through Parliament but that the numbers in the House of Commons were the problem, not Theresa May. He said: “It was deeply disappointing our negotiated deal did not get a majority in the Commons. Parliament is gridlocked. I know how frustrating it must be.
He added: “My only regret is that we haven’t kept to our promise of leaving on 29th March and I don’t think there is anything that I would have done differently. The referendum vote must stand or we would be failing British democracy. I think we have to deliver on that instruction.”
When asked about the way forward, he declared that a customs union with EU was a possibility but it would not be his preferred solution to the current stalemate.
Minister Kwarteng was also buoyant about the UK economy and criticised those that had predicted a collapse before the referendum. He said: “The underlying economy, beneath what is going on with Brexit, has performed a lot better than people would have anticipated two years ago. Despite Brexit half of small and medium manufacturers here in the North West are planning to increase their capital investment in the next year.”
The conference opened with a welcome speech from Dawn Cheetham, President of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce who urged government and politicians on all sides to bring to an end the damaging uncertainty that a delayed Brexit had brought.
The closing address was given by David Taylor, Interim Chair of the Lancashire LEP who urged the government to stand up to the hard line Brexiteers and do everything possible to avoid a ‘no deal’ scenario. He said: “No deal will be disastrous for the UK economy, without question, and it is regions such as the North West that will be hit hardest and have to pick up the tab. Business doesn’t care about the politics involved – people will just do whatever is best for their business. We need investment to stay in this country and more importantly in the North West.”